Monday, 11 January 2010

Ramblers urge Mepa to stop Baħrija works

From the Times of Monday, 11th January 2010

For our full PR, please check the 10th January 2010 page, where you will also find RAM's reaction to the Minister's reply.

Ramblers urge Mepa to stop Baħrija works Matthew Xuereb

The works taking place on the contentious site in Baħrija. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Environmentalists have upped the ante in their quest to stop ongoing works to rebuild a Baħrija farmhouse owned by former Nationalist Party president Victor Scerri, insisting they are not satisfied with the planning authority's handling of the matter.
The Rambler's Association has written to Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi, Rural Affairs Minister George Pullicino and to the chairman of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority, asking them to put a stop to the works.

Late last year, the association had asked Mepa to stop ongoing "abusive works" on the site after a permit for an extension of the farmhouse was withdrawn in August.

At the time, the association had filed an objection with Mepa saying "heavy equipment was back on site with uncontrolled works perpetrating the ruination of the valley".

The reason for the withdrawal of the extension permit was that an environment screening process had been ignored. However, the original building permit remains valid because it was granted before the screening process was introduced.

Work on the controversial site started again in November after Mepa gave its go-ahead to the method restoration statement supplied by Dr Scerri's architect.

The development had sparked controversy before the European Parliament elections last June and subsequently led to Dr Scerri's resignation. He had insisted he wanted to defend his case as a private citizen without dragging the party into the controversy.

In its letter, the association said Mepa had not addressed all the points it raised back in December, insisting other answers were unsatisfactory.

It requested that works be stopped on grounds of a commitment Mr Pullicino gave in 2005 when he was responsible for Mepa.

The ramblers accused Mr Pullicino of misguiding people and civil society when in an article published in The Times on June 4, 2005 he said: "I am confident the planning system is sufficiently robust to provide important countryside areas such as Baħrija and Fomm ir-Riħ adequate protection from insensitive development."

The association said that at the time of the above declaration, three applications filed by the same person had already been approved in Baħrija, which meant the minister never sought information from Mepa or was given incorrect information. Alternatively, they added, Mr Pullicino was knowingly concealing the applications and thereby making a false declaration.

On these grounds, the association called for the revocation of all permits issued in the Baħrija area before June 4, 2005.

The charges were rebutted by the ministry, which, in turn, accused the association of distorting the truth. The minister, it said, had been referring to the development of a five-star resort and golf course among other developments that were supposed to be built in Baħrija. Mr Pullicino never spoke on the proposals the association was addressing.

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